When, a hundred years or so from now, historians come to describe British society around the turn of the 21st century, I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here may well be seen as key evidence. It encapsulates, as no other television programme has, the complexity and stupidity of our attitudes towards celebrity - on the one hand, it testifies to our hunger for celebrities, our desire to find out about them, observe them as they go about their lives, identify with them; on the other, it more than suggests a Schadenfreude, a joy in their suffering.
The fuss about this third series has been exaggerated by the startling news that John Lydon, formerly Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, would be taking part. Bookmakers immediately installed him as joint favourite (with the footballer Neil "Razor" Ruddock) to win the popular vote; and last night's first edition showed that he is the star attraction in the minds of the producers and his fellow celebs. His late arrival was seemingly the main topic of conversation - though that may have been an artifact of editing - and when he did turn up, the producers put John Williams's "Superman" theme on the soundtrack. Throughout the programme, the cameras returned to Lydon every time they wanted a punchline. While the other nine celebrities shuddered at a lecture on spiders they might encounter in the Australian jungle, Lydon cackled: "Eight legs crawling over me in the night? What a thrill. How many people want to see me suffer?"
The answer to this last question, by the way, turned out to be pretty much everybody: given their first chance to vote for a personalities to perform a risky and unpleasant challenge, the nation plumped for Lydon, eager to see what he would do.
Apart from Lydon and Ruddock, the contestants are, in ascending order of pointless celebrity: the athlete Diane Modahl; the former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond; the ageing disc jockey and John Betjeman enthusiast Mike Read; Peter Andre, a pop singer noted mainly for his impressive abdominal muscles; Kerry McFadden, formerly of the girl band Atomic Kitten, now married to a bloke who was in the boy band Westlife; the convicted fraudster - but he's paid his debt to society - Lord Brockett; Alex Best, wife of George; and Jordan, who has enormous breasts.
They have to spend a fortnight eating grubs and insects, have snakes and spiders slither over them at night, and endure heat. At the end, some of them may have improved their career prospects (presumably Mike Read is hoping to see his career revived in the same way that Tony Blackburn's was when he won the first series); some may feel they are loved by the great British public; for most, it will be no more than an upwards blip on a down-sloping graph of public recognition. So far, Kerry McFadden has shown little of the devil-may-care attitude we expect from a former Kitten, quivering at anything vaguely creepy-crawly. Jordan, by contrast, has demonstrated an admirable determination to keep her end up. In the first of a series of "Bushtucker Trials" she wore a see-through helmet filled with maggots, grubs and snakes, and barely batted an eye. Perhaps life in tabloid Britain had prepared her. The real weirdness here is not that celebrities are prepared to do this stuff; it's that millions of us love to watch them.
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